It’s an invention that has the potential to radically change how people who are visually impaired navigate the world – and nine Perkins students and staff were given the opportunity to test-drive it in mid-December.
It’s SUNU, a small device with enormous power. It’s a wristband similar in appearance to a Fitbit or Nike’s FuelBand, but it doesn’t count calories or track your steps. Instead, SUNU detects obstacles up to 13 feet away and alerts the wearer to their presence with a series of pulsing vibrations. As the obstacle becomes closer, the vibrations intensify.
SUNU’s chief strategy officer Fernando Albertorio spent an hour with each tester, walking them through different navigational challenges, from locating doorways to avoiding low-hanging branches. He’ll spend the next few months poring over their reactions. The feedback will help the company improve future versions of the device, which is still in the prototype stage.
“We learn as much as we can from these experiences,” Albertorio said. “It enables us to make a road map for our product to get better and better.”
Here’s what some of the SUNU testers had to say about their experience with this cutting-edge wearable navigational device:
“A device like SUNU could take some of the stress out of traveling with a dog or cane… especially if it reliably detects object at head level, since a cane does not. Even a dog is not accustomed to concerning itself with objects above shoulder-level.”
– Jerry Berrier, Manager, National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program
“Being able to wear a vibrating device and trying to focus on more than one thing at a time would be a very big challenge – you would have to learn how to multitask. When you’re in a new environment you would be paying attention more, but after a while you might filter (SUNU) out.”
– Lisa Chiango, Adaptive Technology Trainer
“Before using SUNU, I was skeptical. I have tried other similar devices in the past without much benefit. After using it, I was pleasantly surprised. I was able to avoid overhead objects quite easily and was also able to find doorways very easily.”
– Thomas Cumings, Adaptive Technology Trainer
“In order to receive proper detectable warnings from the SUNU device, an individual must hold their wrist at a precise angle. I found this angle very unnatural and awkward while casually walking.”
– Jim Denham, Educational Technology Coordinator
“My thought regarding the sensation related to using SUNU was that of intrigue, (since) I have never attempted to navigate using a sensor. This provided a unique approach to exploring the world.”
– Jeremias Feliz, Assistive Technology Trainer
“SUNU could be a game-changer when maneuvering in an unfamiliar building. It would allow a cane user to travel more gracefully – knowing where doorways are without hitting or knowing where a wall is. Using SUNU is unobtrusive while providing so much feedback about the environment around you.”
– Milissa Garside, Adaptive Technology Trainer